Why would an NHL team put its leading scorer on the trade block?ask the canucks

Vancouver Canucks center Bohovat warms up before the game against the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddle Arena on Dec. 14.Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

The Vancouver Canucks seem to have a bit of a ride, albeit a bumpy one.

After a poor start to the season when fans at Rogers Arena threw their jerseys on the ice in disgust, the Canucks righted the ship somewhat. They traveled to Calgary on Wednesday and beat the Flames 4-3 on penalties. They’ve gone 11-8 since early November. During that time, they have beaten some of the hottest teams in the league while looking like the playoff team many expected them to be.

In other words, what better time to trade your leading shooter.

won’t be vancouver and Canucks If not for some drama hanging over the team. There are many this year. After a poor start, there were calls to fire coach Bruce Boudreau, the same Boudreau who gained near cult status among Canucks fans for joining and finishing with a near-season endeavour. Reversed last year’s dismal playoff season.

Then there’s Brock Boeser’s bench and news on the trade market — a pure scorer who seems to need a change of scenery to rediscover his scoring touch.

But the biggest explosion came this week when it was revealed that the Canucks were open to an offer for team captain and top scorer Bohovat.

Of course, whether this actually happens remains to be seen. Horvat scored again on Wednesday night, which took him to 21 goals this season, surpassing Aleksandar Ovechkin and Auston Matthews. He also has the highest matchup win percentage in the league at nearly 60%.

Hockey fans in North America will ask: What might Vancouver be thinking?

The problem, of course, is money. Horvat, 27, captained the Canucks for four seasons and is on an expiring contract. Vancouver management probably think they can re-sign him for a price similar to the average annual salary in the $6 million range. (He scored 52 points in 70-plus games last season, including a career-high 31 goals). Then he went into the season and left; he’s currently on track to score 59 goals. Now, he and his agent are looking for an average annual salary above $8 million. Vancouver is believed to have fought back with numbers starting with seven.

There doesn’t seem to be a way for the Canucks to get Horvat into next season at the price he’s looking for and keep it under the salary cap. But it’s also possible that team president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrick Irving think they can get attractive players and/or draft picks in return for Horvath, as they look to restructure (rather than rebuild) a ball that needs help team, especially on the backend.

However, club salary cap constraints are real. This summer, the club opted to re-sign 29-year-old JT Miller for seven years for $56 million. Whether it’s the burden of that contract or not, Miller hasn’t had a top-three finish this season. He has moved from his preferred center forward role to the winger in Horvath’s defence. His slow start has made his contract nearly untradeable. So letting Horvat control his thoughts wasn’t a realistic option.

Still, you’d think the Canucks would have to have a way to get their captain out of contract, if they wanted to. It would help if they could find a dance partner for Boeser. If there are willing buyers, the Canucks could agree to part ways with several other players — for example, someone with a Stanley Cup pedigree like Tanner Pearson — which would also help boost profits. Everyone expects the salary cap to go up next year as well.

Again, the bigger question is whether this is really a bottom-line dilemma, or whether the current management thinks the team is better off without Horvath. The emerging superstar Elias Pettersson is the next captain, and JT Miller is the natural secondary center behind him. If the Canucks can get a quality young defenseman in exchange for Horvat, it might be worth parting ways with the man known as the conscience of the hockey team.

Still, parting ways with their leading shooter seems like a very odd decision, especially considering what the Ontario product of Rodney has done for the team since being selected with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2013 draft. But loyalty, as we know, means little in professional sports. These are the Canucks, whose fans seem to feed off a self-generated crisis.

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